We have reached the stage of "What if we just let it snow a lot to save the Antarctic ice sheet" of our time on earth. Good job, all together.
What sounds like a discussion that climatologists would expect after eating a few pot brownies is the premise of a new release in Science Advances on Wednesday. The researchers have assembled the numbers in a massive geoengineering modeling experiment to find out what is needed to support Earth's most vulnerable glaciers. The results focus on pumping large amounts of artificial snow onto the surface to stabilize the West Antarctic glaciers. This idea would slow sea-level rise, but could also have a number of unintended consequences. While this type of thought experimentation is interesting in understanding all the possibilities that humanity has for dealing with climate change, it also shows how despair can lead to dangerous decisions by policymakers if carbon emissions are not lowered soon.
The West Antarctic is the zero point crisis of sea-level rise. The Coastal Glaciers hold back an ice sheet that raises the sea level by more than 3 meters when it is completely melted away but undercut by warm water. The underlying rocks fall down as you travel inland, resulting in an unstable situation that can lead to collapse. Their possible collapse is possible even if the world achieves the goals of the Paris Convention, and if that happens it would completely change the shores of the world.
"There is no alternative to bringing carbon emissions down to zero and maintaining the Paris Climate Agreement. But even if we have already caused the planet without further warming serious damage, "said Anders Levermann, climatologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who had worked on the study, told Earther. "A process currently underway in the West Antarctic due to ocean warming is that all of West Antarctic's sea ice is discharged into the ocean."
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Previous Experiments on Procedures This includes a proposal for a massive underwater well, to prevent warm water from entering the glaciers. However, the new study is exploring another way to save the glaciers by putting more snow on the surface to thicken the ice. The process that could theoretically stabilize it by adding a weight that pushes the grounding line – where ice, ocean floor and ocean meet – further into the sea.
Using a climate model, the researchers simulated the continued melting of the ice cover and boosted the snowfall that turned into ice during compression. The results show that adding up to 10 meters of ice a year over a 10-year period would be enough to protect West Antarctic glaciers from complete destabilization if our current heated climate remains constant. That would be 7,400 gigatonnes or a billion tons of ice. Jane Flegal, a scientific policy expert and associate faculty member at Arizona State School for the Future of Innovation in Society, pointed out to Earther that this is six times the volume of the Panama Canal.
think [Southern California ski resort] Big Bear's artificial snow system can produce about 20 tons of snow per minute (at optimal capacity), "she said. "To do this, a system (hopefully running on carbon-free energy) would have to do the artificial snowing of Big Bear for 700,000 years."
"People need to understand that, if we do not want to lose our cities, we have to do something. We have just shown one way. "
There are a few minor technical obstacles that need to be addressed in snowmaking. The study itself admits that the seawater needs to be pumped 640 meters to desalinate it and then blow it as snow or store it until it freezes. This would require enormous amounts of energy – according to the study, pumping alone would require 12,000 powerful wind turbines to generate enough electricity – all in one of the harshest and most remote places on earth. And the study finds that it may not work or may have inadvertent consequences from the fact that global sea levels have dropped a few centimeters due to total water pumping and ocean circulation patterns have been completely disrupted.
"I do not intend to do anything We have shown that this is possible, but that is a decision for society," said Levermann. "People need to understand that if we do not want to lose our cities, we have to do something. We have just shown one way.
That scientists even cite this seemingly wild-eyed scheme as a possibility shows some things. The first is that we are in a bad place in terms of climate change. Science has shown risks for decades and yet humanity has continued to pump carbon pollution into the atmosphere. And so researchers are investigating what was a taboo for research a few years ago, such as the geo-technology of ice sheets to keep coastal cities from flooding. Honestly, that should get you excited.
The second reason is that geoengineering represents the Wild West from a governance point of view. A fraudulent billionaire decided to fill the sky with sun-blocking particles, which could have unintended consequences.
Possible consequences include the above-mentioned ocean circulation and sea-level decline, as well as the fact that this could fail. However, Flegal also noted that there are "social risks to accepting the feasibility of something that is probably impossible".
We already have a presidential candidate who states that he would run some geoengineering programs at his election, including "damming glaciers". Confidence in these types of Moonshot schemes could make society even less prepared for the impending changes.